How to Stop Feeling Like a Failure
Failure is part of life, but it's how you handle the feeling that determines your eventual success.
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We've all been there — sitting with our head in our hands, wondering how we've ended up where we are. For the most part, we know what's good for us and what isn't, but for some reason, we still forge ahead with the things that aren't good for us. Maybe you went against your better judgment, didn't trust your intuition or were just completely blindsided.
Recently, I had a client who said, "I feel like a failure." But once I coached her through the steps I'm about to share, she recanted her statement and realized she just wasn't feeling at her best. You'd be surprised by how much the failure we feel is actually rooted in something other than the experience of failure itself. It may be guilt, shaming yourself for not knowing better, shaming yourself because you actually did know better, comparing your progress to others', or letting negative influences into your life that drag your energy down and make you more susceptible to nitpicking your life, childhood memories and more.
Here are five ways to break out of the cycle.
1. Identify the source of the feeling
What isn't happening in your life that is making you feel this way? Now, that isn't a "woo-woo" sit-on-the-couch-and-tell-me-your-problems move. It's a serious question. What is making you feel lack? What is giving you this sinking feeling in your chest? This may seem obvious, but sometimes, it's the little things adding up over time that get to you.
Whether it be "Well, I'm getting divorced and don't know how I'm going to feed my kids," "I paid too much attention to other people's accomplishments on social media and started questioning the progress I've made in my own life," or "I've been trying and can't seem to catch the break that I need to move to the next level," something has happened to make you go from "I can figure this out" to "This ship is sinking."
Write down the things that are happening in your life that make you feel insufficient, when they happened and how you felt about it at the time.
2. Identify what success looks like to you
If you're feeling a sense of impending doom in the pit of your stomach, an ache in your chest or heaviness in your heart, you're probably thinking from a place of lack. You may be looking at all the things you don't have or all the things that aren't happening. So, you've already identified what you think failure looks like — now write down what you think success looks like. This may seem redundant, but I've done this for many clients, and it works like a charm, so bear with me.
3. Evaluate both lists
Okay, you've identified the sources of your feeling of failing and identified what success looks like. Do you see any triggers on your first list that may be making you feel bad about yourself? Now, I want you to put a checkmark by how much of what's on your first list actually has something to do with you directly — then circle which things can actually be improved. Those are going to be the things we focus on primarily.
There will probably be other things on that list that are important to you but don't directly involve you — such as seeing all of your friends married and pregnant. These decisions are outside of your control and made by other people; put a star by them. We will circle back to those later.
4. Identify what you can do to win
It seems simple enough, but when you're already giving up and mentally beating yourself up, the emotion of that can be paralyzing. It can be hard to think of things that can make you feel better. So, what I want you to do is think of things that will give you a quick win. What makes you feel good about yourself? What will make you feel like you are making progress towards achieving the results on your "what success looks like" list?
These may be small things that can move the needle towards your success, but they are things that will restore your hope and energy. For all intents and purposes, this is the beginning draft of a "how I can get out of this" list. It's time to brainstorm: Which tricks can you pull out of your sleeve?
Related: 18 Ways to Bounce Back from Failure
5. Find someone to help you execute
Sometimes, when you think you're failing, the last thing you want to do is tell somebody about it. But there are ways to go about it where the person doesn't have to know all of your deepest and most troubling woes. So, who in your arsenal can help you? I know this may be a lot of effort if your eyes are already glossed over and the darkness is taking over, but trust me — a reason to have hope goes a long way. So, we need to find it. If you don't know of anyone you think can help, where can you find someone who can?
Hopefully, thus far, your mood has elevated a bit, and you're no longer in the sunken place. Let these five steps serve as tools to help you pull yourself out of the abyss enough to partner with whom you need to partner with to make your goals happen. As a coach, I find that most times, the smallest bit of hope is enough to fuel a whole arsenal worth of decisions that will lead clients to the results they want. So, to be successful at this, make sure you find the help and support you're going to rely on when things are taking longer than you'd like.
That could look like hiring coaches, consultants or accountability partners. It could be making buddy systems or bartering. Whatever the case, make sure you have a professional to go to that can help you stay on track and hold you accountable. One of the biggest reasons my clients see success is because we have put a system in place that allows them to always feel like they are moving the needle towards success and, therefore, feel like they are winning. The second is that they know that they have a place to go where they can be held accountable and receive help tweaking their strategy.
You aren't a failure, and you aren't failing — you're just taking a route that is different than the one you envisioned. Maybe you thought the path was a straight shot on a clear and sunny day, but now you're climbing steep mountains in brutal temperatures. You were mentally and physically prepared for an easier journey, so struggling doesn't make you a failure. You've got this, and you have everything it takes to live the life that you envision.